Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (Jn. 12:12-26)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 13 November 2011 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 12:12-26

God established David’s throne and promised that his kingdom would once more become glorious. Israel expected Messiah to come to recover the historical glory of Davidic kingdom. After the return from Babylon, Jewish scholars studied the Messiah and recognised the Messiah’s coming as a glorious one which would surely revive Israel. But this is a one-sided concept that is why the Jews could not recognise the true Messiah when He came. They looked down on Him because of His human background. They concluded nothing would come from Nazareth, from the son of a carpenter. It was a tragedy to measure value in this way.

Why did Jesus ride on a donkey and not a horse? Jesus was willing to ride on a donkey which nobody has ever ridden. He entered Jerusalem as the Prince of peace, not the King of war. People on the road welcomed Him and shouted hosanna (Jn. 12:12-13). From human perspective this was the greatest glory Jesus received on earth.

But unlike man’s concept of glory, Christ’s concept of glory Jesus is in suffering. The first step of His glorification on earth was His incarnation, God become flesh. The angels sang glory to God in the highest when He was born in the lowest place, the smelly manger.

The second step was the glory in His death. When people came by the masses to welcome Jesus, the Pharisees were displeased. Their words revealed their arrogance. They could not be happy when others are praised. They believe their religion is right and only they should get praises. Jerusalem was in a mess then. Some people wanted to kill Jesus, some wanted to praise God and some people were there for the passover. But Jesus knew He was the Lamb of the passover and the time was coming for Him to die.

This principle has never changed. Without the cross there is no resurrection. No life without death. No glory of God without suffering.

Many people from all over the world came to gather at Jerusalem for the passover, including the Greeks (Jn. 12:20). Why would the non-Jews obey the law of the Jews to come to Jerusalem for passover? These were non-Jews who were pious and God-fearing. Cornellius was such a person. He feared God. Peter said, “God accepts from every nation the one who fears Him and does what is right.” (Acts 10:35) This does not mean their good deeds save them. They still need the salvation of Jesus. The Bible said the entire world is under sin.

The Greeks discovered that their religion was not good so they looked for something different in the Jewish religion. 400 years before our Lord, the Greeks had 3 great philosophers, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. These three great philosophers were different, but they were common in one way. They recognise that truth must be consistent and true good must bring true happiness. True happiness consists in having wisdom which includes life ethics. In the past, they were seeking wisdom. Unfortunately our education system is more about academics, it is not about seeking wisdom.

Socrates had sparked the thought to seek the purpose of life in many Greeks who continued to learn for 400 years till Jesus came. 400 years before and 400 years after Christ are considered the golden age of philosophy. People seek to understand the purpose of existence. In western philosophy, the golden aim of existence is to be happy. One group says happiness comes from hedonistic lifestyle (Epicurian). Another group believes true happiness comes from true good (Stoics) which sets high standard for morality. And a third group doubts everything (Skeptics). This influences western though greatly, to seek the good, to seek joy and happiness and to doubt all things.

These highly learned and intelligent Greeks were looking for Jesus. They found that their false gods did not give any answer. They were looking for purpose of life. They found Phillip. Phillip found Andrew and both went to Jesus. When they met Jesus, Jesus said “the hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified.” (v.23) This refers to His death. He was not filled with anxiety. He was not interested in philosophy discourse. He knew He was called for the lost sheep of Israel.

So He said to the Greeks, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (Jn. 12:24) Here Jesus gave them the philosophy of life. There are two principles, anyone who loves their life will lose it, he who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (Jn. 12:25). No religion or philosophy ever said this. Eventually every religion and philosophy of man is still man-centered. However, Jesus points away from man-centredness. He said lose your life and you will receive it.

When your time is up your money means nothing, your power means nothing. A person who live a life of decadence will one day has everything he has strived for taken away, like the rich man who hoarded wealth would lose his life the very night God wanted it.

Our Lord Jesus was born gloriously and died gloriously in God’s eyes. He went from glory to glory, the first glory in incarnation and the second glory in His death. This is very different from political leaders and sinners of the world.

Jesus was not interested in philosophical discourses. He came to die in order to give eternal life.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Preparing for His Death - Part 3 (Jn. 12:1-8)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 6 November 2011 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 12:1-8

In the Bible, top 3 women whose words were recorded most in the Bible are:
1. Rahab
2. Queen of Sheba
3. Mary the mother of Jesus

A major utterance of Mary the mother of Jesus is the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), where Mary said something that even the Roman Catholics could not deny - that she needed a saviour (Lk 1:47). Note that since long time ago the Roman Catholics believed that Mary was divine and had been debating whether she ascended into heaven and did not die, just like Enoch. This debate ended when in 1953, the pope at that time dogmatized that she ascended into heaven and did not die. The dogma next developed into a concept that stated that Mary is the co-redeemer besides Jesus: Jesus is a redeemer and Mary too is a redeemer (the Co-Redemptrix doctrine).

This is completely against the Bible. Firstly, in performing the miracles our Lord Jesus Christ did not need her at all. In John 2 at the wedding in Cana, when Mary asked Jesus to help with the wine shortage, Jesus replied, 'Woman, what does this have to do with me? ...' (or translated 'Woman, what have you got to do with me?') This is because just before performing miracles, Jesus exercised his divinity. Miracles can only be performed by God and man/woman has no part in them. Secondly, while Jesus was preaching and his mother and brothers were looking for him, Jesus answer was based on his divinity, 'Who is my mother? ...' Here Jesus clearly expressed his divine nature as above his mother who was just human. Thirdly, when Jesus was 12 and stayed behind at the temple, his answer reflected that his father was God the Father, even as he obeyed his earthly parents. Lastly, when Mary the mother of Jesus was last mentioned in the Bible (i.e. in Acts 1:14), she joined the disciples in praying before the Pantecost. This implied that she was just a human.

Feet are a man's dirtiest body part and hair is a woman's most glorious body part. But Mary from Bethany offered her hair (highest glory of man) for Jesus' feet (the lowliest part of man) in being used by God to anoint Jesus.

Another Mary used by God is Mary Magdalene. She was used by God to be the first person to tell the world that Jesus Christ had risen after his death.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Preparing for His Death - Part 2 (Jn. 12:1-8)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 30 October 2011 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 12:1-8

To anoint Jesus, Mary bought a very expensive kind of pure nard, broke the bottle and used all of them on Jesus. As the fragrance filled the whole room, it symbolised how much she loved the Lord. It must have been the moment that Jesus most appreciated his whole life as he spent much of his time with the poor and smelly, ministering to them.

In the Bible there were many people used by God. Most of them were men, and a few were woman. Even though they were women, they were still used by God in very special ways. No other religion held women in such high esteem, granting them opportunity to serve God. Before God, man and woman are equal in status. However their roles are different: Man is the head of the woman. When brothers and sisters serve together in the ministry, the sisters do not need to compete to be leaders over the ministry; the former are to be submissive to the brothers. Reformed theology (归正神学) aims to follow this principle in the ministry too - there is a difference between the Reformed theology (归正神学) and [some] Presbyterian church (长老会): The former does not ordain female reverends but the latter has already permitted that.

Still, women were used in very special occasions by God. Among them is this Mary from Bethany.  She was such a silent woman, she would listen to the Lord intently when he taught. In the whole Bible only one sentence of her is recorded, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died' (John 11:32). However she was the one used to anoint Jesus.

From a person's words we can tell how a person is like. Rahab, even though she was a prostitute, spoke gracious words to the spies that sought refuge at her house. The Queen of Sheba who went to seek an audience with Solomon in search of wisdom spoke humbly too. Mary the mother of Jesus, praised God very wonderfully upon hearing the news that she will bear Jesus Christ in her womb (the Magnificat) even though it was a sacrifice on her part [of bearing the shame of bearing a baby as a virgin].

In contrast, Judas spoke words that destroyed the whole atmosphere that evening. Judas was quick to speak and did not take any action. But Mary kept quiet and let her actions speak instead. Very few Christians are like her today - quiet but full of actions. In the church today we seldom find people like her. Those who like to quarrel don't serve in any ministry but those who serve, would not quarrel.

I believe the words in v6 were added by John later on. This is because in chapter 13 we read that when Jesus said one of them would betray him, nobody knew it was going to be Judas. Only when Peter motioned to John to ask Jesus did Jesus reveal it to John.

Jesus' reply were greatly comforting words to Mary. The implication is that whatever sadness happens to us the true comfort will come from Jesus Christ. What she did was to anoint Jesus Christ.

When a person becomes a priest/prophet/king, he must be anointed. The Bible tells us only one occasion when a prophet was anointed - Elisha (by Elijah). This does not mean that prophets do not need to be anointed; it can only be concluded that only Elisha was anointed through a religious rite. In reality, a prophet does not need to be anointed by man because his anointing comes direcly from God. When a person was sent as a prophet, the Holy Spirit moved upon the person and that was his anointing. However priests and kings are different. A priest require another priest to anoint him. A king needs the high priest to anoint him. Now Jesus was all: a prophet, a priest and a king. As king, God himself has anointed him as no one in his era would have been qualified to anoint Jesus. This was recorded in the first messianic psalm - Psalm 2. As prophet, it was also God himself who anointed him as we can see from John 1:1-3 that the Word became flesh and the Word came from God and the Word was God. Prophet in Hebrews means God's spokeperson. Now Jesus himself is the Word that bsecame flesh and that he came from the Father. This will become clearer towards the end of John 12. As a priest, a priest represents two parties. Before man he represents God and before God he represents man. On behalf of God, he tells us God's grace, promises, and commands. On behalf of man he is a mediator between man and God. On one hand he represents God by preaching the Word of God, on the other hand he represents man and his sin. Jesus came to the world for his life so that he could die physically for man. Jesus also came to the world for his death so that man can be saved. From the third angle, Jesus came to the world through the virgin Mary, so that he could take our sins upon himself. Ps 45 and Heb10:7 tell us that when Christ came to the world, he thanked God for giving him the physical body so that he could take on the sins of man. Therefore his death was a priestly death, his burial was a burial of the final mediator, and his resurrection brought the end to the priest genealogy.

John recorded a few times that the Jews were asking if Jesus would like to die, because in their Christology the Messiah would not die. But if Jesus did not die, he would have not carried out his duty as a priest.

Mary's anointing of Jesus was not a simple outpouring of perfume unto Jesus; it was part of the priestly duty itself. She had a part in that. Mary knew her responsibility well. Hence Jesus told Judas to leave her alone while anointing Jesus.

John the Baptist was the only one in history ever moved by the Holy Spirit while still in the womb. We can see this when Mary the mother of Jesus went to meet Elisabeth the mother of John the Baptist. Elisabeth said, 'The mother of my Lord has come to meet me.' At that time, John the Baptist was moved by the Holy Spirit to jump in her womb. The implication is that the Gnostic were wrong - it was not that Jesus become divine only after the Holy Spirit came upon him (The Gnostic relied on Jesus's words on the cross, 'My Lord My Lord why do you forsake me?') Jesus was already divine even before birth as we see from Elisabeth's words.

God did not use Annas and Caiaphas to anoint Jesus because they were dishonest people and hated Jesus.